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Authors: Terri Farley

Secret Star

BOOK: Secret Star
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Phantom Stallion
19

Secret Star
Terri Farley

Contents

Chapter One

Tempest had discovered her own neigh, and she wasn't afraid…

Chapter Two

“Oh, right,” Sam said.

Chapter Three

“Bayfire's not just…” Sam searched for a word. For a…

Chapter Four

Sam forced herself to look at Jake more closely.

Chapter Five

“Go!” Jake said. He gave Sam a shove between the…

Chapter Six

“The car's engine died when we stopped,” Brynna said bluntly.

Chapter Seven

Reindeer? Sam was about to ask how the actress had…

Chapter Eight

As Inez hurriedly adjusted her collar and smoothed her blouse…

Chapter Nine

“I think that's great, Gram,” Sam said.

Chapter Ten

They didn't ride out early the next morning.

Chapter Eleven

All day, they worked Bayfire up and down the mesas.

Chapter Twelve

“Can't think of anything that'd make me go now,” Jake…

Chapter Thirteen

After dinner, Inez drove Violette through Alkali and back to…

Chapter Fourteen

It took fifteen minutes to get Bayfire settled down enough…

Chapter Fifteen

A cool breeze blew through the kitchen window. Sam smelled…

Chapter Sixteen

“How're you doing?” Sam asked Inez when they paused halfway…

Chapter Seventeen

Bayfire spooked, shying sideways.

T
empest had discovered her own neigh, and she wasn't afraid to use it.

Sam tried to escape the blast of high-pitched sound by pressing her spine against the wooden boards of the box stall and her palms against her ears. It didn't help much, but finally, the black filly stopped to draw a breath.

“Enough, baby,” Sam crooned. “All the other horses can hear you. They know you're the princess of River Bend Ranch.”

Sam wished she could make Tempest understand, because any minute a movie star horse and his trainer would be driving over the bridge to River Bend Ranch. For a few days, Tempest wouldn't be the center
of attention, even though the filly really was River Bend's princess. Tempest's sire was the swift and powerful silver stallion known as the Phantom. No one could deny he was a king among wild horses.

Tempest's mother, Dark Sunshine, had roamed free as the Phantom's queen until she'd reluctantly chosen the ranch as the safest place for her filly.

Sassy and proud, Tempest seemed totally aware of her heritage, and with two celebrities on the ranch, the filly might not get all the attention she thought she deserved.

Now, even Dark Sunshine had had enough of Tempest's shrill neighs.

“Hey Sunny, you're not leaving me here alone with her, are you?” Sam called after the buckskin mare.

Dark Sunshine didn't glance back. Shaking her black mane so hard that half of it flipped from the right side of her neck to the left, the mustang mare slipped out of the box stall into the corral.

Sam told herself she only imagined Sunny's sigh at the peace and quiet of the grassy enclosure.

Hands on her hips, Sam surveyed her morning's work. She'd cleaned all the stalls in the barn, raking out the soiled bedding and replacing it with sweet-smelling straw. She'd paid special attention to the big box stall where the star stallion would stay when he wasn't in the corral adjoining the one Tempest shared with her mother.

Inez Garcia and Bayfire.
Excitement sprinkled
down on Sam like bright confetti. Having two Hollywood celebrities right here on the ranch was almost unreal. She could hardly believe Maxine Ely, her friend Jake's mom, actually knew Inez Garcia and had recommended she and her stunt stallion stay at River Bend Ranch for a few days before shooting a scene in Lost Canyon.

Just two nights ago, Inez Garcia had called after talking with Jake's mom. Sam wished she'd been the one to answer the phone, but Brynna had left the dinner table just as the phone rang, so she'd been the lucky one.

“The rest of the crew is staying in Alkali,” Brynna had said, after she'd explained the other details. Then she'd looked at Sam and added, pointedly, “But Inez would like Bayfire's time here to be private.”

Sam knew she'd sucked in a loud, disappointed breath before she blurted, “Does that mean I can't tell anyone?”

There hadn't been a minute for negotiation.

“That's right,” Brynna had said. “Not even Jen.”

“Where on earth will we put a movie star?” Gram had said. She'd bolted to her feet and begun gathering dishes and clearing the table as if she needed to start preparing that instant.

“She'll stay in her camper,” Brynna had said. “And she made it very clear, she's just a horse trainer. In fact, her only concern is for her horse. She obviously loves him.”

At that, Dad had laughed. “Who wouldn't? If I owned the highest paid stunt horse in America, I'd love him, too.”

“Oh Wyatt,” Brynna had said, making a gesture to brush aside Dad's cynicism.

Now, as fresh straw rustled under Tempest's hooves, Sam wondered if Dad was right.

“Well, I love you, whether you can do anything or not,” Sam told Tempest.

She bent, grabbed a handful of straw, and waved it to amuse the filly.

With a side swipe of her black muzzle, Tempest knocked the straw from Sam's hand. Then she stamped a front hoof, lifted her chin, and tried to stare over Sam's head.

“Don't talk back to me, young lady,” Sam said, trying not to laugh at the filly's pose.

Maybe Tempest was bored with Sam's lecturing. Maybe she'd snuffled up dust that hadn't settled from Sam's raking. Whatever the reason, the filly began snorting and rolling her eyes.

As if he thought the foal's shrill neighs were about to start up again, Blaze, the ranch Border collie, gave a quick yap and bounded out of the barn.

In response, the filly gave a teeter-totter kick toward the barn's rafters. When Sam didn't scurry away too, Tempest's ears pricked forward and her brown eyes turned studious.

Sam tightened her stubby ponytail. Then, arms
hanging loose from the short sleeves of her faded pink T-shirt, legs relaxed in her jeans and boots, she tilted her head to one side.

Loosen up and settle down,
her body language told the filly, and as she watched Tempest watch her, Sam fought back a yawn.

Tempest wasn't the only noisy one today.

The morning sky had been more black than blue when Sam had first looked out her bedroom window to see why a blue jay wouldn't stop squawking.

Finally she'd spotted a winged shadow dive-bombing Cougar, her tiger-striped cat, as he tried to slink across the ranch yard.

Cougar must have slipped outside at Dad's heels without him noticing, because the cat wasn't allowed outside the house during the hours coyotes might be around. But the ranch was a compact little world of its own, and nothing stayed secret for long.

“You're caught,” Sam had said through the windowpane, though there was no way the cat could hear her.

As the cat and bird had moved farther from the two-story white ranch house, Sam had climbed back into bed, hoping for a few more minutes of sleep.

It hadn't worked. Just seconds later Brynna's hair dryer began howling from the bathroom down the hall.

Even though it was Saturday, her stepmother and Gram had risen early, rushing to do some errands in
Darton before Inez Garcia and Bayfire arrived.

Sam had pulled the pillow over her head, trying to drown out the sound, but then the vacuum cleaner had started droning downstairs.

Though Inez Garcia had insisted she didn't want any special treatment, Sam wasn't surprised by Gram's last-minute housekeeping.

Gram had probably baked something delicious, too, but if so, she'd hidden it. When Sam made her way down into the kitchen for breakfast, Gram and Brynna were gone and she'd been left with nothing but cold cereal and toast.

Tired of Sam's daydreaming, Tempest gave a low nicker.

“Save your voice.” Sam coaxed the filly. “I've had enough noise this morning.”

As if Sam had thrown down a dare, Tempest extended her tiny muzzle upward and released another ear-splitting whinny.

Over the foal's racket, Sam heard hammering and a rumble outside the barn. Dad was starting up his new tractor.

Sam sighed. She guessed she should go out and admire the machine, even though she didn't understand Dad's decision to buy it.

By entering a drawing at the rodeo, she'd won Dad a brand-new truck equipped with every luxury imaginable. Besides its off-road ability, the truck had a windshield tinted to cut the glare of the desert sun,
heated seats to warm predawn trips out to break the ice off the cattle's water, and a sound system that surrounded you with music real enough that you might have been onstage with the band.

But Sam only knew this from the brochure that had come with the winner's certificate. Dad had turned down the truck.

Instead of starting it up and shouting “yippee” all the way home, he'd made an agreement with the dealer. Dad had traded in his old tractor. Its value, added to the price of the prize truck, had equaled the cost of a six-year-old steel-gray truck, which was nice enough, and a state-of-the-art tractor that did everything, he said, except plant the hay and sell it to the highest bidder.

“I'm out of here,” Sam told the filly.

Tempest stopped neighing and followed so close that Sam felt the warmth of the filly's body. Then Tempest wiggled her head between Sam's side and arm, forcing a hug.

Smiling, Sam turned to face her.

Looking up from under long eyelashes, the filly gazed into Sam's face.

“Could you be any cuter?” Sam asked.

The tension in Sam's shoulders and the ringing in her ears vanished.

She'd never believed she could love another horse as much as she did Ace and the Phantom, but her heart had room for one more.

Sam hugged Tempest's neck, then lowered her lips to the filly's cupped black ear and whispered, “Xanadu.”

The name was their secret. Sam never stopped imagining where the mythical place called Xanadu might be. Was it the secret valley where the Phantom kept his herd, an invisible place that hovered here between them, or someplace she and the filly had yet to discover together?

“That's what I hope,” Sam said.

Once she'd wrung all the attention she needed from Sam, Tempest gave another high-pitched whinny and trotted off to the barn corral to annoy her mother.

Dad had said she could take Ace out for a ride as soon as she'd completed her chores and welcomed Inez Garcia. Sam wondered how long that would take.

A deeper neigh summoned Sam to the ten-acre pasture.

Ace. How did he know she'd been thinking about their ride?

Sam took a deep breath. She was excited about meeting Bayfire, but greeting a stranger, especially one from Hollywood, made her feel kind of shy.

Still, it was better than running around Darton with Gram and Brynna and lots better than haying with Dad and the hands.

Rushing toward the tack room, Sam almost collided with Pepper.

The red-haired cowboy, River Bend's youngest, dodged aside, but his eyes were on Tempest, not Sam.

“She's a beauty,” Pepper said, nodding toward the filly at the same time he edged open the door to Blackbeard's Closet. When no avalanche of supplies covered his boots, he added, “I bet you'll be glad when she's grown up, so you'll have a good-lookin' horse to ride.”

Sam rarely pictured herself astride a grown-up Tempest. Blue-black and high-stepping, she would be amazing, but that was a long time away.

“I guess,” Sam said, “but I have Ace.”

“Your Ace isn't much for flashy,” Pepper said as he refilled his nail pouch from a box on an overcrowded shelf.

Are you insulting my horse?
Sam barely kept her words behind closed lips. It would have been easy to snap at Pepper, but he probably didn't intend to be mean about Ace.

“Better get what I came for,” Sam said.

She took a quick look around the tack room for mice and the snakes that considered them tasty snacks.

“Nobody here,” Sam muttered.

By the time she'd taken her saddle, blanket, and bridle from their hooks, she still hadn't shaken off Pepper's comment about Ace.

Since Ace couldn't speak up for himself, Sam decided she had no choice but to do it for him.

“Aren't you the one who told me there's no bad color for a horse?” she began, just as Pepper was about to leave the barn.

Pepper didn't pretend not to know what she was talking about.

“Well, yeah, but we're not talkin' just color. You've gotta admit Ace is runty lookin',” Pepper said, grinning.

Sam wouldn't let herself be joshed out of defending her mustang.

“Ace is a great horse and—” she insisted.

“Never said he wasn't,” Pepper told her. “To my way of thinkin' he's one of the best horses on this ranch. I'm just sayin'—”


I'm
just saying I appreciate him for more than his looks!”

“Have it your way,” Pepper said. Then he gave a smile of surrender. “Guess if it weren't for girls like you, guys like me and Ace wouldn't have much to live for.”

As Pepper walked off chuckling, Sam tightened her hold on her gear and picked her way around Blaze. The Border collie fanned his tail at half-mast and watched Sam's face.

“Don't ask me what he's talking about,” Sam mumbled, and the dog trotted off across the yard on some errand of his own.

Then she hurried, hoping she could get Ace saddled and tied, ready for a quick getaway after the Hollywood boarders arrived.

Sam was rushing so fast, she didn't realize Dad had turned off the tractor. As he stepped around the vehicle, into her path, Dad grinned with pride.

“What do you think?” he asked, jerking a thumb toward the tractor.

In fact, she thought it was a pretty boring machine, but Dad misinterpreted her slow answer.

“Hope I didn't hurt your feelings by tradin'—” he began.

Sam shook her head, then hefted her saddle closer.

“It's not that,” she said, wondering if she was likely to get more chores if she told the truth. She did, anyway. “The truck seemed more fun. And the old tractor was still working.” She gave a shrug.

“This one's a lot more fuel efficient,” Dad said. “It doesn't pollute as much.”

Sam imagined the saddle growing heavier as Dad droned on.

“…thinking about next year, when I won't have as much help around here…”

Suddenly, Sam really listened.

Why would Dad be short of help next year?

Everyone on River Bend Ranch did their part. Gram kept the ranch accounts, cooked, and gardened, and was Dad's partner in the business of ranching. Brynna and Sam shared horse responsibilities with Jake Ely.

Jake was one of Sam's two best friends, and even
though he wasn't a member of the family, Dad treated him like one, paying him what he could when he could.

Before Sam could put her worries into words, a door squeaked. Blaze wiggled out from the shade under the wooden porch as a silver-haired figure emerged from the bunkhouse.

Dallas was the ranch foreman. He worked with Dad, overseeing everything to do with cattle and the upkeep of the ranch, and that included assigning Pepper and Ross their cowboying duties each day.

BOOK: Secret Star
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